And the majority here is marginal farmers and farm-labor from the dalit community. Aranmula is primarily a temple town, there are scattered around the main temple several small temples and sacred groves. For the earth people hills are abodes of God. The proposed airport is threatening all these. Kozhithode river was once sought after for various needs, mainly irrigation of the Puncha wetlands, bathing, washing. It fed the Pampa itself, one of the left out tributaries not yet dry.
And it was dear to the farmers, they even send water up the Puncha river with ingenious water-wheels. With its thick embankment foliage it was famous for the hordes of jungle fowl and their cackle. How it got the name, from Kozhi, Malayalam for fowl, and thode, river. In a region increasingly short of water the river was their solace, and these rice people were organically part of the wetlands.
It is these prime wet lands that began to be filled by a hit and run company at Aranmula, what seems to threaten the world famous heritage town with its boat races, metal mirror Aranmula Kannadi, more. Don’t ask if it is legal to do that, it is not, but the whole airport project is pushed illegally. They have violated far too many statutes, ten laws of the land at the last count, including environmental, land use, acts. They encroached on private and government lands. There was violence, and at last spates of complaints were filed.
The district Collector, Pathanamthitta had to order that the land they claimed and filled as their own had far too many anomalies and asked that a major part of it be vacated and restored to its previous status. But when faced with too many court cases and action initiated by the local government agencies the owners managed a scoop. They got the whole area declared as industrial area. Once that is done no one shall question the goings on, industry can do whatever they want.And a strong political lobby came in support. The Industrial Area proclamation came from the then Industries Secretary, and reportedly he got the order through a special gazette, issued, again, without the consent of the cabinet. There is a vigilance enquiry on the matter right now.
It is no joke, President of the Indian Union cannot be the matter of jokes, but when the protests became aggressive, a new outfit Aranmula Paithruka Grama Karma Samithy, came in to the picture. With thismatters came to a head and it was then that the President was asked to make a declaration on Aramula Airport, it became a part of the Presidential address in Delhi. Clubbed with some of the ongoing public sector airport projects this concept of an airport was mentioned as state policy. It happened, all the illegal deals could be white washed in one stroke, it was also a message, all those down below, behave. The message was loud and clear, the private company here has the government as a tool.
But with that the game plans changed and the people till now passive, some of them even supporting a smaller airport, if not the proposed ‘aeropolis’. That is what they plan, aeropolis, a massive complex with star hotels, international stadiums, industrial belts and all that running under a Special Economic Zone, where the sovereignty of India may not work. The oarsmen of the boat races became alert and so did the people of Kerala as a whole. And there was a counter proclamation, of the people, that not a handful of earth fill shall be allowed anymore. ‘If you dishonor laws, we shall implement the laws’, that was a slogan heard at Aranmula and that was not healthy for a democracy.
It all began with a church outfit called Mt. Zion Society who came and bought bits of paddy fields claiming to start a paddy – fisheries farming program. Then they bought a hillock and started filling the fields, river, pulling down the hillock. They now said it is for a small airstrip as they wanted to start an aeronautical college. There were grey areas, intentions were suspect, they still are. With more lands bought and filled the protests began and the announcement came that the plan is with state government support.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy announced that the state is to have a stake in the company. Seeing the people get violent the group had bought another outfit called KGS Group with a Chennai business – politics link by now. They said it is for an airport meant for Sabarimalai pilgrims, the forest shrine nearby, and they roped in couple of local heavy weights. The Chief Minister said that the Aranmula Airport shall be made, if necessary tomorrow. And the people took the opposite stand, it will not be allowed at any cost. A broad range of people cutting across communal and political differences came together and pledged that the wetlands and the heritage town shall be protected. ‘No Deserts, and No Hong Kong here’, they said.
The unusual formation is from the Communists to the SanghParivar organizations, otherwise arch enemies. Meanwhile the river Pampa, an apology for its old self, the wetlands once humming with activity but with almost no paddy cultivation now, are all in crisis, wrong human interventions have created havoc, they want more. What is at stake is the symbiotic culture, the survival systems that the natives protected so far. A region that saw large scale land alienation may see a new trend, beginning Aranmula.